UNSCR 2467 Women's and children's rights as spoils in a war of words in the UN

On 23 April 2019, under the German presidency, the UN Security Council held the annual Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict, which focused on accountability for sexual violence and survivor-centred approaches.

One key outcome of the debate was the adoption of the ninth resolution (UNSCR 2467) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS); and the fifth to focus specifically on the conflict related sexual violence component of the WPS agenda. As has been commented on widely, never before has a Security Council WPS resolution been this controversial or close to failure; never before has a WPS resolution been passed with anything but consensus.

After controversial lengthy debates and the threat of a US veto, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 was finally adopted with 13 votes in favour, and abstentions from Russia and China. Amidst the furore that accompanied the debates, and the political manoeuvring around controversies surrounding mechanisms around the implementations of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of victims of sexual violence, one key aspect of UNSCR 2467 has been in danger of being overlooked:

UNSCR 2467 is exceptionally important for children born of sexual violence in conflict. For the first time, a UN resolution acknowledges them as rights-holders who endure both related and distinct harms from women and girls impregnated in acts of sexual violence. Further, UNSCR 2467 calls for the Secretary General to report back to the Council on issues including life threatening risks and harms to women and girls who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence, including those who become mothers and their children.

The University of Birmingham has been leading global research into the adversities associated with being a child born of war (CBOW) and specifically a child conceived as a result of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). CRSV, which includes rape, sexual torture, sexual slavery and forced marriage, inflicts immense pain, sometimes mortal injuries and physical and psychological suffering on the direct victims, but also – and this has finally been acknowledged in UNSCR 2467 – on the children conceived in these atrocities.

Projects in the School of History and Cultures, the Law School, the International Development Department and in Global Public Health, among others, have contributed to the understanding that CRSV is neither inevitable nor unavoidable collateral damage related to conflict and war, nor that sexual and reproductive rights are essential for victims of CRSV. A Horizon2020-funded international, interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral doctoral training network comprising 15 doctoral projects concerning children born of war and two AHRC-funded research projects specifically about children fathered by peacekeepers have shed light on life courses of children born of war and, through collaboration with support organisations, service providers, NGOs and the UN, have informed the policy debates leading to the inclusion of the protection of CBOW in UNSCR 2467.

While UNSCR 2467 is a very significant step forward in the championing of protection rights of CBOW, in its survivor-centred approach and its emphasis on accountability, the passing of the resolution came at a price: it ultimately depended on the Security Council’s willingness to abandon references to SRHR in return for US approval. Failing to specifically include SRHR in the resolution misses an opportunity to confirm and assert strongly that international law requires safe abortion services, HIV prevention, and prenatal healthcare for survivors of wartime rape. This is a widely accepted view, recognised previously explicitly among others by the UN Secretary General, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and the European Union in the acknowledgement of the rights to non-discriminatory medical care in armed conflict. In fact, the UN Security Council has itself previously confirmed the necessity of SRH in the clinical care of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. In this regard, UNSCR 2467 is a retrograde move: since the first WPS resolution, UNSCR 1325, almost twenty years ago, resolutions on women, peace and security have been built on a foundation of women’s rights. Despite its commitment to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and despite reaffirming the obligations of State Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the contentious debates resulting in what some view as a compromise resolution in an area that does not allow compromise, if victims are to be protected optimally, UNSCR 2467 has raised doubts about the Security Council’s sincerity and resolve.

Words matter; and words that are missing matter; succumbing to US gag rules matters. But actions matter even more than words and ultimately, any evaluation of UNSCR 2467 needs to be based on an assessment of whether this initiative will lead to change for the better for victims of CRSV and their children on the ground. Only time will tell.

Sabine Lee, Professor in Modern History.